Tyler Perry Avec Chateau House

December 30, 2011 by staff 

Tyler Perry Avec Chateau House, July 8, 2004 THE actor and playwright Tyler Perry had barely set foot in Avec Chateau, his 26-room mansion here, when he made a confession. ”I used to be embarrassed to show people my house,” he said, standing in his Italian marble foyer.

Mr. Perry, who has parlayed writing comic plays larded with music into a multimillion-dollar industry, said he feared that relatives and friends would find his $5 million home — with swimming pool, waterfall, two prayer gardens, tennis courts, an indoor theater and a soon-to-be-constructed amphitheater — ostentatious. He designed the house, in this Atlanta suburb, and is now building seven other stately homes to sell nearby.

”When I built this house a year ago, everyone asked why a single man, with no family, needed a house this big,” he said. ”But I realized this house was a testament to my religious faith.”

Seven years ago Mr. Perry, now 34, was homeless and sleeping in his car on the streets of Atlanta. Today his traveling shows — riotous stories of black characters whose problems resolve in gospel music — are a sensation on the so-called ”chitlin circuit” of black clubs and dance halls, providing a cross between legitimate theater and stand-up comedy.

Jackie Bazan-Ross, president of Bazan Entertainment, a marketing company in New York, said Mr. Perry’s success can be attributed to black audiences, who spend $8 billion a year on entertainment and media. Ms. Bazan-Ross said, ”They fill up those shows every time.”

He doesn’t appear in his newest show, ”Meet the Browns,” which begins touring in August in Baton Rouge, La. But he wrote it, he directs it and he will be traveling with it. (Tickets go on sale tomorrow; ”Meet the Browns” will play six nights at the Beacon Theater in New York in November.)

Mr. Perry’s best-known character is Madea, a blunt-spoken, marijuana-smoking, gun-toting grandmother, whom he plays with melon-size breasts. In reviewing ”Madea’s Class Reunion” last fall, Variety called Mr. Perry ”a raw, major talent just beginning to hit his stride.” The plays, which touch on themes like infidelity, abuse, age and redemption, have led to his writing a film script for Lions Gate.

Mr. Perry stages up to eight shows a week. He travels almost constantly with 16 actors and 20 crew members, and his shows have grossed more than $60 million over the last five years, according to the Tyler Perry Company, which also markets videos of his shows. During a rare weekend off, Mr. Perry settled his 6-foot-5-inch frame into a plush cream-colored sofa and talked.

As a child, he said, he often peered out the front window of his family’s shotgun house in New Orleans at the mansions two blocks north. Two blocks south were the projects, the territory of gangs, drugs and crime. Being poised between the mansions and poverty ”became my metaphor for life,” he said. He attempted suicide as a teenager, and he had a rocky relationship with his father, Emmitt, now mended.

Emmitt Perry, by his son’s account, was abusive. He was a builder and expected his son, who came to building sites with him, to become a builder too.

”I always could draw,” said Mr. Perry, who designs and builds his own sets and designed and decorated his house with the help of only a contractor.

Mr. Perry’s creative side was fostered by his outspoken mother, Maxine, a retired preschool teacher; his wise, Bible-reading paternal grandmother; and an aunt who lived in Houston and supposedly carried a gun in her purse. Their lives inspired the character of Madea.

In 1991, while working as a bill collector in a law firm, Mr. Perry heard Oprah Winfrey say on television how cathartic it was to write things down. ”But I didn’t want people to know what I’d been through,” he said. ”So I used characters.”

In 1992, with $12,000 in savings, he drove his Hyundai from New Orleans to Atlanta, carrying a rough draft of his first play, ”I Know I’ve Been Changed,” about survivors of child abuse. But he spent all the savings renting and staffing a 200-seat theater.

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